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How profiles and assessments contribute to better learning outcomes

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*** Style profiles, self assessments, diagnostic tools, skills assessments - they often go by different names but to some degree their purpose is essentially the same. They provide an easy-to-understand but often powerful method for analysing current strengths and development needs.

These tools are used in training programs (as pre-course or in-course activities), as coaching tools, for self-development, career or succession planning and team development activities.

Here are six ways they contribute to better learning outcomes:

1. In a training program, they provide a valuable method for connecting course content to the individual, by answering the 'how does this apply to me?' question.

2. Participants work through the questions and complete their own scoring, which helps them to understand how the outcomes are determined (no magic here folks!) and own the results. This is particularly appealing to more analytical personalities, while still being accessible for others.

Most assessments include an action plan which can be used by participants to specify what they will do to continue developing their skills and abilities in their target areas. A copy can be retained by the trainer in a sealed envelope and posted back to the participant in a few weeks time to help remind them of their intentions (alternatively participants could swap them with each other and then have an accountability catch up over coffee down the track).

4. They provide a focus for those who have no idea where to start in learning a new skill or find a particular skill overwhelming. By breaking the topic down into manageable pieces, it is no longer so daunting and participants are likely to find they already have some of the skills needed.

5. They help break up a training program and make it more accessible for those with different learning styles by offering a meaningful activity that is directly connected to the topic, while also providing plenty of fodder for discussion.

6. In a coaching context, they can help people come to a clearer personal realisation about their own skills (or development needs) which sits nicely with the coaching philosophy of helping the subject find their own answers rather than being told what is needed or what they should do by their coach.

Behavioural Style Assessments: These tools help clarify how you are most likely to behave in a given situation (by grouping your own responses, usually into four different styles). The many topics include: Assertiveness, Conflict Resolution, Negotiation, Influence and Relating. The focus is on understanding your own behavioural choices, comparing them with what may be a more effective response, and learning how to choose those different responses in the future. As you can see, their topics most often fall under the interpersonal communication umbrella, and the tools help participants understand their 'default position' so they can move forward from there if needed.

Competency Based Assessments: This type of assessment is focused on identifying your current strengths and any development needs in a very practical way. Topics include such things as: Management Effectiveness, Change Management, LeadershipWorkplace Creativity, Coaching Skills, Decision Making and even Career Success. Those topics are broken down into skill sets, and questions drill down into each. This helps with targeting any training any development activities to the specific areas that need the most attention.

The best way to illustrate why this can be helpful is to consider a topic such as Time Management. There are so many different aspects to effective time management, and an almost infinite choice of different courses available. By using a tool to drill down into the topic, you can discover whether you need to work on organisational ability, managing pressure, managing interruptions or delegation skills (amongst others). You will clarify which of those skill sets you are already effective in, and can look for development opportunities that are specifically focused on the areas you need. Essentially, these tools help shine a spotlight on the areas where focused development will make the greatest difference to your performance.

The results can be used to help target the content of training courses so that it makes a difference rather than going over unnecessary ground. You could even break the course down into bite-sized modules, and have team members attend only those modules that they really need.

Personality Tools/Psychometrics: these tools focus on understanding how a person is wired. Examples include those based on Jungian type, such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or the Psychological Type Indicator, DISC Styles and Insight Inventory. Their primary goal is to develop your understanding of yourself, and of others. The first time a person realises that the way they innately think and perceive may be quite different to those around them can be a life-changing moment with significantly positive impacts on their personal and professional relationships.

At the deeper end, psychometric tools definitely need to be administered by experienced, qualified and/or accredited professionals. However, there are some tools that have been specifically designed to be very accessible for all users. A good example of these is the Insight Inventory, developed by Dr Patrick Handley. This is a strengths based tool, designed to extend understanding of self and others and help participants learn how to flex their communication style to get better outcomes, whether they are dealing with people like them, or different to them.

Whichever tools you choose to use, here are 5 quick tips to help you get your participants on board so they can get the most from the experience:

1. Lay a good foundation: how people will approach the assessment has a lot to do with how you pave the way. The focus is on development - how can we understand strengths in order to make the most of them, and identify development needs in order to build on them? It is a positive and meaningful experience designed to help people, not pull them down.

2. Don't misuse them: tools like these should never be used for performance appraisal. They are not designed for it and misusing them in this way will turn what should be a positive experience into a competitive one (with false results as participants will answer the way you think they want to instead of telling the truth).

3. Don't use them to label or box people in: Assessment tools should never be used as a way of labelling people as one thing or another. When using personality tools in particular, I find it helpful to clearly state that these tools are just guides. Even those who have the same personality type (speaking in Myers Briggs terms), are not cookie cutter versions of the same person. Equally, a particular result is not an excuse for poor behaviour or a reason to consider ourselves better than someone else. Every personality has strengths as well as challenges.

4. Don't mysticise them: One of the major benefits of style and competency assessments, is that the scoring is easy to understand - they are a tool to help collate information that helps clarify what a person probably already knows about themselves, and put that into context. They are not psychometrics, which should offer validity, reliability and normative data and may reveal what was previously unknown.

5. Be prepared. When using an assessment tool with others, first complete one yourself as part of your pre-course preparation. This helps you to understand the scoring, be prepared for questions, and you may even like to share your results with the group to demystify the process and kick off conversation.

While assessment tools are certainly not the be-all and end-all of the development journey, they can certainly be a useful adjunct in our efforts to develop ourselves and others.

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